In Memory of D.M. Murdock
Josephus was an elite Jew, born in Jerusalem a few years after Jesus’ alleged crucifixion. He served as a Jewish military leader in Galilee, the very place alleged to have been home to Jesus. Josephus’ father, Matthais, was of Jewish royalty and lived during the alleged life of Jesus, in Jerusalem, the very town in which many of Jesus’ main events were supposed to have transpired. It is curious that Josephus’ father never mentioned a miracle worker by the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Josephus was also a Jewish historian who penned voluminous works on Jewish history. Two of his most renowned works were the ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ and ‘The Jewish Wars.’ From these works it is plain to see that despite his desire for self-preservation, he was a very proud and devout Jew. Before we begin to examine the two alleged references to Jesus which appear in his work entitled ‘Antiquity of the Jews’ (90CE~94CE), it is both relevant and necessary to note that within his ‘Antiquities of the Jews,’ he made mention of approximately twenty different people named Jesus. Some of these characters included Jesus the son of Sapphias, Jesus the son of Gamala, Jesus the son of Phabet, Jesus the son of Sie, Jesus the son of Fabus, Jesus the son of Thias, Jesus the son of Gamaliel, Jesus the son of Damneus, Jesus the brother of Onias, Jesus the brother of John, Jesus the Galilean, who was a great military commander, and numerous others.
Josephus – The Jew
Given that we know Josephus remained a devout Jew for the entire span of his life, we should take a quick look at the Jewish belief regarding the coming messiah. Judaism, whether pharisaic or orthodox, rejects the notion that the Christian’s Jesus was the Messiah/Christ. A prominent Jewish website enunciates the Jewish belief regarding the future arrival of the messiah, saying:
“Belief in the eventual coming of the ‘moshiach’ (messiah)… is part of the minimum requirements of Jewish belief. In the ‘Shemoneh Esrei’ prayer, recited three times daily, we pray for all of the elements of the coming of the moshiach: gathering of the exiles; restoration of the religious courts of justice; an end of wickedness, sin, and heresy; reward to the righteous; rebuilding of Jerusalem; restoration of the line of King David; and restoration of Temple service.”(1)
Furthermore, Judaism has certain scriptural requirements for the coming messiah which have yet to be fulfilled. What is the Messiah supposed to accomplish? The Hebrew Bible says that he will:
- Build the Third Temple (Ezekiel 37:26-28).
- Gather all Jews back to the Land of Israel (Isaiah 43:5-6).
- Usher in an era of world peace, and end all hatred, oppression, suffering and disease. As it says; “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall man learn war anymore.”(Isaiah 2:4)
- Spread universal knowledge of the God of Israel, which will unite humanity as one: “God will be King over all the world on that day, God will be One and His Name will be One”(Zechariah 14:9).
If an individual fails to fulfill even one of these conditions, he cannot be regarded as the Messiah. Because no one has ever fulfilled the Bible’s description of this fictitious future King, Jews still await, in vain, the coming of the Messiah – even though Josephus referred to the Roman Emperor Vespasian as the messiah. (2)
Now that we have established that Josephus’ beliefs prevented him from viewing the Christian Jesus as the messiah, let’s have a look at the two alleged references to Jesus in the ‘Antiquity of the Jews’, beginning with the most famous one found within what is known as the ‘Testamonium Flavianum’.
The Testamonium Flavianum
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ (Messiah). And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” (3)
Problems with the Above Reference to Christ
Arguments from Silence
The second-century Church father and apologist Justin Martyr (c. 100-c. 165), who had pored over Josephus’s works, made no mention of the ‘Testamonium Flavianum.’ In an address to the Greeks Justin referred to Josephus’ ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ to support his argument about the antiquity of Moses, yet we are expected to believe that he somehow missed the passage which provides non-Christian evidence for his Savior. Further, he wrote a Treatise against Trypho, a Jew who was critical of Christianity, and yet he failed to mention Josephus’ confession regarding the messiah-ship of Jesus. If the passage in Josephus’ work had of existed at this time, Justin would have certainly used it against his Jewish opponent Trypho. “Here is one of your own, a fellow Jew, who has admitted that Jesus was the Messiah”, I’m sure he would have boasted. Other early Church fathers who failed to mention the reference to Christ in the ‘Testamonium Flavianum’ included Theophilus Bishop of Antioch (180 C.E), Irenaeus (120/140~200/203 C.E), Clement of Alexandria (150-211/215 C.E), Origen (185~254 C.E), who said that Josephus did not believe Jesus was “the Christ.” (‘Contra Celsum’, Book 1. Chapter XLVII) (4), Hippolytus (170~ 235 C.E), Minucius Felix (250 C.E), Anatolius (230~270/280 C.E), Saint John Chrysostom (347~407 C.E) and Photius (820~891 C.E).
So how is it that early Church fathers familiar with the very work in which Josephus allegedly referred to Jesus as the Christ, made no mention of it? This is a serious problem for Christian apologists.
Arguments from Compromised Transmission
The very first mention of the TF comes from Eusebius in the fourth century, who was a motivated Church father and known forger. In Joseph Wheless’ ‘Forgery in Christianity,’ he relays the following regarding letters to and from Jesus that were probably forged by Eusebius himself:
‘…the Catholic Encyclopedia, which again describes them, and proves that they ‘Were forged by their great Bishop of Caesaria(Eusebius): “The historian Eusebius records [HE. I, xii], a legend which he himself firmly believes concerning a correspondence that took place between Our Lord and the local potentate (Abgar) at Edessa. Three documents relate to this correspondence: (1) the Letter of Abgar to Our Lord; (2) Our Lord’s answer; (3) a picture of Our Lord, painted from life’. (5)
He goes on to say:
‘But it is not true, as we have seen already confessed, that Eusebius innocently believed that these forgeries were genuine- for they were all shamelessly forged by Eusebius himself: “who vouches that he himself translated it from the Syriac documents in the archives of Edessa’. (6)
Professor Bart Ehrman reports on Eusebius’ dishonest character in the following words:
‘Eusebius stands at the end of this process. It was his rewriting of history that made all later historians think that his group (Orthodox Christianity) had always been the majority opinion. But it did not really happen that way’.(7)
Eusebius appears to have been a zealous fraud, who, given the chance to advance his own religious beliefs, would probably have seize upon such an opportunity with the tenacity of a starving gutter rat.
Arguments from Literary Dysfunction
Christ Interrupts the Narrative
In the passage before Josephus seems to be drooling over Christ with the starry-eyed adoration of a faithful Christian, he was reporting on the tragic events which befell the Jews when Pontius Pilate violently suppressed a Jewish rebellion. This dramatic event was narrated by Josephus in a very dark and tragic tone. This paragraph is then followed by the cheerful reference to the wonderful works of Christ, following which, the next paragraph begins, ‘About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder’. The manipulated order of this text makes it seem like Josephus was saying that the wonderful advent of the Jewish Messiah was a ‘sad calamity’, when his use of words in describing Jesus were anything but sad. Subtract the 12 sentences of the TF and the ‘sad calamity’ becomes the violent suppression of the Jews by Pontius Pilate, which, needless to say, makes a lot more sense. So to sum up the order of his narrative:
- The Jews are violently suppressed by Pilate.
- The advent of the Jewish messiah and Jesus’ wonderful works.
- Another sad calamity put the Jews in disorder.
If we subtract the TF, the narrative not only flows continuously, it also makes a lot more sense. Remsburg summed up the opinion of the Christian scholarly community, saying:
“Bishop Warburton declares it to be a forgery: “If a Jew owned the truth of Christianity, he must needs embrace it. We, therefore, certainly conclude that the paragraph where Josephus, who was as much a Jew as the religion of Moses could make him, is made to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, in terms as strong as words could do it, is a rank forgery, and a very stupid one, too” (Quoted by Lardner, Works, Vol. I, chap. iv).” (8)
The Rev. Dr. Giles, of the Established Church of England, says:
“Those who are best acquainted with the character of Josephus, and the style of his writings, have no hesitation in condemning this passage as a forgery..(Christian Records, p. 30).” (9)
The Rev. S. Baring-Gould, in his Lost and Hostile Gospels, says:
“This passage is first quoted by Eusebius (fl . A.D. 315) in two places (Hist. Eccl., lib. i, c. xi; Demonst. Evang., lib. iii); but it was unknown to Justin Martyr (fl . A.D. 140), Clement of Alexandria (fl . A.D. 192), Tertullian (fl . A.D. 193), and Origen (fl . A.D. 230). Such a testimony would certainly have been produced by Justin in his apology or in his controversy with Trypho the Jew, had it existed in the copies of Josephus at his time. The silence of Origen is still more significant. Celsus, in his book against Christianity, introduces a Jew. Origen attacks the argument of Celsus and his Jew. He could not have failed to quote the words of Josephus, whose writings he knew, had the passage existed in the genuine text. He, indeed, distinctly affirms that Josephus did not believe in Christ (Contr. Cels. i).” (10)
Dr. Chalmers ignores it, and admits that Josephus is silent regarding Christ. He says:
“The entire silence of Josephus upon the subject of Christianity, though he wrote aft er the destruction of Jerusalem, and gives us the history of that period in which Christ and his Apostles lived, is certainly a very striking circumstance” (Kneeland’s Review, p. 169). (11)
The following, from Dr. Farrar’s pen, is to be found in the Encyclopedia Britannica:
“That Josephus wrote the whole passage as it now stands no sane critic can believe.” (12)
Eusebian Style and Language
It has been noted by a number of textual critics that the above passage fits neither the style nor the grammar used in any of Josephus’ other works. For example, the ‘Testamonium Flavianum’ uses the Greek term ‘poietes’ with the meaning “doer” (as part of the phrase ‘doer of wonderful works’), but elsewhere, Josephus only uses the term ‘poietes’ to mean “poet,” while it is Eusebius who uses ‘poietes’ to mean ‘doer’, as in ‘doer of wonderful works’, when referring to Jesus in some of his other works. (13)
Further, in the ‘Testamonium Flavianum’ Josephus refers to the Christians as a ‘tribe’. Elsewhere, however, he only uses the word tribe to describe a people who share the same ethnicity, not religion. Again we find that Eusebius, the one possibly responsible for first producing this interpolation/forgery, was the one who used the word tribe to describe Christians. (14) Are we to regard the following three facts as mere coincidences?
- Eusebius is the first recorded person to publish the ‘Testamonium Flavianum;’
- Eusebius uses the words ‘poietes’ and ‘tribe’ in a manner which matches the misapplication of Josephus’ common usage of those very terms, and;
- Eusebius has been charged with forging letters to and from Jesus to a King of Syria and accused by other biblical scholars and historians of rewriting and altering historical records to support his religious convictions.
A Further Stylistic Implication – Brevity
Finally, Josephus was in the habit of writing voluminous works in which he would go into lengthy discussions about almost everyone, from high priests to commoners. If Josephus did believe Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah, as the interpolation/forgery suggests, surely he would have given more ink to him than to some of the robbers and commoners to which he devoted pages. Take for example his commentary on Judas, the son of Ezekias, who was a robber. This comparatively insignificant character was given 15 lines in Book 17 of his Antiquities of the Jews, (16) or Simon the slave of Herod, who in the same book had 36 lines set aside for him. (17) Josephus’ Messiah only receives 12 short sentences. Coupled with the other tell-tale signs of forgery, the brevity of this reference to Josephus’ “messiah” also indicates interpolation of the crudest nature. To further illustrate the unsophisticated nature of this Christian interpolation, I will provide the reader with a similar example of my own creation. The following interpolation will be inserted into a speech made by Malcolm X.
Malcolm X: Black Man’s History Speech (December, 1962)
“Now all of a sudden our people of all complexions are not apologizing for being black but bragging about being black. So there’s a new thinking all over America among the so-called Negroes. And the one who is actually the author of this new thinking is The Honorable Elijah Muhammad. It is what he is teaching that is making our people, for the first time, proud to be black, and what’s most important of all, for the first time the French people, who are becoming more and more obsessed by negroid ideas, represent a threatening menace to the existence of the white race in Europe because they are bound up with the Jewish campaign for world-domination by infecting the white race with the blood of an inferior stock. It makes our people want to know more about black, want to know why black is good, or what there is about black that is good.” (18)
After reading this example, one may have observed a number of peculiarities. All of a sudden Malcolm changes the topic from what is happening in America to what is happening in France. He appears to be using a different style of language (“Negroes” vs. “Negroid”), but most significantly, his beliefs are severely compromised by the interpolation of an excerpt from Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’, and if the interpolated passage is subtracted, the speech makes more sense and flows continuously, as is the case with “Josephus’” TF.
The Second Reference to Jesus in Josephus’ Antiquities
The second reference Josephus allegedly made to Jesus Christ also appears in his ‘Antiquities of the Jews,’ in book 20 chapter 9, and it reads as follows:
“Festus was now dead, and Albinus (the Roman procurator of Judea) was but upon the road; so he (The high priest Ananus) assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, (who was called Christ), whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.” (19)
As previously mentioned, Josephus mentioned around twenty different people named Jesus, and upon further examination of the context of this passage we see that the Jesus in question may have in fact been Jesus the son of Damneus. The passage quoted above describes the illegal execution of a number of people by the high priest Ananus, one of whom was a person named James, who had a brother called Jesus (the son of Damneus?). The problem with this execution was that it angered many of the locals, who appealed to the Roman procurator, protesting that Ananus had not sought the approval of his Roman overseer, Albinius, thus rendering the execution illegal. To this, Albinius agreed and sent Ananus an angry letter, placing pressure on the ruling Enthrach of Judea, Agrippa, to oust Ananus from the post of high priest. Agrippa acquiesced and in his stead made Jesus the son of Damneus the new high priest. (20)
If we understand that the person who ended up ascending to the throne of high priest following the illegal execution of “James the brother of Jesus,” was Jesus the son of Damneus, then it makes sense that James’ death would have been mitigated by the Enthrarch in a bid to quell the subsequent unrest in Judea, who, by placing his brother Jesus the son of Damneus in the position of high priest, not only brought peace back to his land, but at the same time, won a political point with his Roman overlord, Albinius. If such was the case, as it appears to have been, we may argue that the Jesus “who was called Christ” phrase, may have originally read, Jesus “the son of Damneus,” and that this was changed by someone, possibly even by the first ever Christian to quote this passage, the third century Church father Origen – although such an allegation against Origen is merely speculative and circumstantial at this stage. Origen quoted this passage from Josephus’ ‘Antiquities’ twice in his works, once in his commentary on the Gospel of “Matthew,” in which he said:
“And the wonderful thing is, that, though he (Josephus) did not accept Jesus as the Christ, he yet gave testimony that the righteousness of James was so great; and he says that the people thought that they had suffered these things (fall of Jerusalem approx. 70 CE) because of James.” (21)
And secondly, in his apologetic treatise against the Pagan Celsus, in which he wrote:
“Now this writer (Josephus), although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless—being, although against his will, not far from the truth—that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus (called Christ),—the Jews having put him to death, though he was a man most distinguished for his justice.” (22)
In both of the above cited quotes from Origen we see that whatever copy of Josephus’ ‘Antiquities’ he was reading from, he was given the distinct impression that Josephus neither accepted nor believed that Jesus was the Christ/Messiah, contrary to the alleged account found within the Testamonium Flavianum. Further, Origen equates the James of this passage in Josephus’ Antiquities, with the James from the Christian Scriptures, which seems to me to be a little problematic, logically speaking. If the James spoken of by Josephus was the Christian James identified throughout the New Testament, then the Jewish rabble would not have been likely to have protested his execution, nor even care that he was executed. Such a person would have been branded a heretic by the masses for worshiping, or even being associated with, Jesus; an act, the New Testament and early Christian writings tell us, was something the majority of Jews saw as offensive. Yet according to Josephus’ account, so many Jews protested James’ execution that both the Roman procurator and the Enthrarch of Judea were forced to intervene, resulting in the deposing of the high priest Ananus, and the subsequent insertion of Jesus the son of Damneus in his place.
It seems to me that the initial reading of Jesus “who was called Christ” would have been likely to have been Jesus “the son of Damneus,” as it makes a lot more sense in the context of the story. All a Christian forger would have had to do was substitute ‘the son of Damneus’ for the phrase, ‘who was called Christ’, and they would have succeeded in convincing future apologists and the Christian laity alike that this was in fact a historical reference to their god-man. If we look at the situation from an investigative point of view, the Christians had the means to manipulate this passage, as they controlled and manipulated the texts of various ancient authors on several other occasions, including the Testamonium Flavianum, in this very same text. They had motive, for there is no greater witness to their historical messiah than this renowned first-century Jewish historian, and they had opportunity, as they possessed and controlled this ancient historian’s works for centuries, with the first mention of the Testamonium Flavianumcoming from the pen of the fourth-century Church father Eusebius, and the first mention of the second reference to Jesus ‘called Christ’ coming from the third-century Church father Origen. Means, motive, opportunity and a proven penchant for altering and even destroying the works of ancient authors whose versions of history did not conform to their belief system, which, in my opinion, is enough evidence to at least consider that the references to Jesus within the works of Josephus were probably forgeries.
If these two fleeting references to Jesus are subtracted from the historical record, which, we may rightly contend they should be, then Christians are left with no valid historical source for the earthly existence of their god-man. Before you jump up and say, what about the Gospels? I would urge you to provide a satisfactory defense in the face of the fact that such “historical” testimony is written beyond the scope of contemporaneity, is affected by bias, plagued with inconsistencies, riddled with forgeries and infused with myth and superstition – then, and only then, may you produce these religious manuscripts as historical evidence for a mundane, human Jesus, and nothing more.
- Moshiach: The Messiah.” The Messianic Idea in Judaism. Judaism 101. Sept. 10, 2009. <http://www.jewfaq.org/moshiach.htm
- Flavius Josephus, Jewish War6.312-313
- Josephus Antiquities of the Jews, VIII, iii, 3
- “For in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who underwent the rite. Now this writer, although not believing in Jesus as the Christ…”
- Joseph Wheless. Forgery in Christianity. Psychiana. (1930). p. 109.
- Bart D. Ehrman. Jesus Interrupted. HarperCollins. (2009). p. 214.
- John E Remsburg. The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidences of His Existence. The Truth Seeker Company. (1909) pp. 32-35.
- Eusebius, Demonstration of the Gospels, 3:5; Eusebius, History of the Church, 1:2:23; Ken Olson, Eusebian Fabrication of the Testimonium (2001).
- Flavius Josephus. Complete Works of Josephus. Vol. 3: Antiquities of the Jews. Bigelow Brown and Co. Inc. Ant. Book Pg. 12/Ant, Book 18, . Book 20, p. 274/Jewish Wars; Book 1, p. 510/Book 2, p. 610.
- Phillip Schaff . Eusebius Pamphilius: The Life of Constantine with Orations by Constantine and Eusebius. Grand Rapids: Christian Ethereal Library. (1890). p. 651.
- Flavius Josephus. Complete Works of Josephus. Vol. 3: Antiquities of the Jews. Bigelow Brown and Co. Inc. pp. 60-61.
- Ibid. pp. 62-63.
- http://www.malcolm-x.org/speeches/spc_12__62.htm; Adolf Hitler. Mein Kampf. Chapter 2.
- Flavius Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. Book 20 Chapter 9.
- Philip Schaff . Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 9: Origen-Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids,MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library. (1885). pp. 820- 821.
- Philip Schaff . Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. 4: Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second; Origen- Contra Celsum. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. (1885). p. 714.